Saturday, December 4, 2010

Gustav's sweet offers

Chef Noor and Khaled at Gustav
 Whenever my sister Asma lost me, or I was late to meet her, during our recent holiday in Beirut, she knew I was surely parking myself at Gustav -- the latest craze in all things sweet to open in the Lebanese capital. Centrally located off Hamra Street, the pâtisserie is a haven for dessert aficionados.

It began trending on Social Media platforms like Facebook and Twitter a few months ago, and if you have a sweet tooth and don’t want to get addicted, it is advisable not to continue reading this post!

Gustav (@LeGustav on Twitter) is the pet project of Emirati businessman Khaled Bou Falasa and his Chef Patissier Noor Ramlawi. When the economic downturn hit world economies and the global recession began to bite, Khaled (@arabear) decided to restructure his real estate, construction materials and furniture business in Dubai. At the same time, he chose to take a sabbatical to concentrate on his hobby – a pâtisserie outlet.

That’s when he met Noor (@Chefnoor), a native of the south Lebanese port city of Sidon, who studied pastry-making in France and was working in Dubai. They decided to set up a pâtisserie in Beirut. After exploring the market and sampling what was on offer in the summer of 2009, they found that quality was often lacking. It then took them nine months to find the location for their project as most landlords were reluctant to lease premises to a business using ovens.

Noor and Khaled always there to welcome their faithful followers
Gustav launched on 10/10/10 and quickly became a crowd-getter – chiefly now, in the run-up to Christmas. Although the premises are only about 55 square meters divided on two floors, Khaled and Noor have created a stress-free atmosphere at their outlet that is now creating and serving desserts of distinct quality and flavor.

One of the many Bûche de Noël
Through word of mouth and the interest of passersby, the pâtisserie now has a faithful following that is growing by the day. It is also turning into a meeting place for the Twitter community.

The duo is continuously trying to take quality a notch higher. “Why deprive the market of quality?” Khaled wonders. “People recognize and deserve what is good and it is out of respect for customers that we strive to offer them the best.”

Customers were at first suspicious, chiefly of the macaroons, Khaled remarks. “What they tasted elsewhere was below par -- all sugar, butter and food coloring. We had to convince them to try ours. And once they did, they got hooked!” Gustav’s macaroons are made from the original recipe of almonds and real fruit.

Gustav Raspberry Tartes and...
Chocolate Fondants
Khaled recounts how one customer once ordered a selection of almost every cake on offer, except macaroons. He didn’t want any because of his bad experience at other pastry shops. When he tasted a Gustav macaroon, he ordered 30 of every flavor (among them vanilla, passion fruit, Sicilian pistachio, Belgian chocolate, Sidon lemon…).

There is no cheating on ingredients, Khaled explains. “We use genuine products, like Lesieur cream from Charente in France, butter from Holland, wheat from France. We also receive our raspberries and Morello cherries by plane from Belgium every two days.”

With fresh products coming out of the ovens all-day, you can pass by on your way to work for different croissants (plain, chocolate, almond cream, zaatar or Burgdorf Emmental cheese). You then move on to cakes, tartes, mille feuilles, éclairs, brownies, muffins, crème brûlée, charlottes, strawberry cheesecake, crêpes, pies, profiteroles... (See full range here)

The upstairs seating area
Khaled is an art connoisseur and devotee as well as a fashion encyclopedia, a voyager and much more. When I asked him why the pâtisserie was called Gustav, he said that when looking for a concept he was inspired by the palette of Austrian Symbolist painter Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), one of the most prominent members of the Vienna Secession movement. The upstairs seating area has the most comfortable chairs in orange, yellow and pale green with dashes of blue and red. There are striking points of colors, like the three vases on top of the display cabinets. The walls are covered with Indian fabric stamps made of wood and there is always soothing music playing in the background.

With free Wi-Fi to go with the succulent desserts, it is easy to spend a few hours at Gustav, meeting friends, reading a book and working on your laptop or just relaxing. I was passing by a couple of times a day, (and no, I didn’t have a piece of cake each time), just to see who was around and to chat with Khaled. Good luck gentlemen!

(You can visit Gustav with me here)